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There is a lot to talk about in this story, because Joyce was a genius. Quite frankly, there's too much to talk about in a mere node, so I'll focus on a some things.

Two Gallants is a fantastic story. What I want to stick on is a small section where Lenehan leaves Corley and goes into a restaurant, and then goes back out. What drives him (or more accurately, what's not driving him?). After a discussion with a friend I concluded that the primary theme is that of Anglo-Irish tensions (and the balance of power) based around the simile comparing Ireland to a prostitute. Yet Lenehan is also a very interesting character - look what he wears on the first page of the story. This aversion to water is a repeated motif is Dubliners (remember the galoshes at the beginning of The Dead?), and it seems to symbolise some fear of growth and fertility, which is what water normally suggests. Yet it is also some deep-rooted aversion to purity and cleanliness, and possibly an inherent dislike of holy water, which would explain the crumbling Catholic Church at the time.

The Two Gallants: Notes

Two Gallants is a story where Joyce moves way from the gentle satire of the previous two stories and attempts a more political message, albeit at the expense of the large symbolic structures present in the later stories. Involving three characters, it would be inaccurate to claim they each represented a particular entity only; rather, Joyce blurs his symbols emphasizing the manner in which he has trouble perceiving reality (a theme explored more fully in Clay).

Yet what exactly is Joyce’s purpose for writing this story? Ireland’s political and moral weaknesses are explored and criticized, but looking closely at the character of Lenehan, I feel that Joyce is showing a rare moment of sympathy for paralysed Dubliners, portraying them as racked with pain, despite their sycophantic ways and moral flaws.

Lenehan’s circular journey is hinted at in the opening sentence of the story: the “mild warm air … circulated in the streets,” and as well as being a comment on the stagnancy of Dubliners’ lives, its location in the story at the beginning suggests that Lenehan’s search is preordained, and is ultimately futile. The passage that I will be examining focuses on Lenehan’s journey, which also acts as a deconstruction of traditional Romantic ideals. We are told he walked “listlessly” and the constant search for meaning has clearly left him exhausted and, as his “brain and throat were too dry,” parched both physically and intellectually.

Crucially, “he turned to the left” at “Rutland Square,” and keeps walking; this turn, however, will lead him back to the original point and thus he condemns himself to stagnancy. Yet Joyce, by showing his pathetic existence where experience “had embittered his heart” and he feels “keenly his own poverty,” draws sympathy from the reader; I believe this is done to force the reader to suspend moral judgement, and leave us in the state of mental ambiguity that Joyce feels himself. The “dark quiet street” with its “sombre look” visually reinforces this underlying tension and confusion that pervaded Dublin and its residents.

Some critics (notably *me*)have suggested that one can draw parallels between Lenehan and Joyce, which naturally suggests that Lenehan’s fruitless walk is symbolic of Joyce’s quest for the perfect art form, described in Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Thus the implications of the story are that Joyce has failed (or rather, Dublin has failed him), and reality has failed to live up to the artist’s expectations (Ooh, ooh, can anyone say ‘The Lady of Shalott’?) However I think that Lenehan is too tainted a character to be a self-portrait; rather, he expresses particular regrets that Joyce feels.

A unique theme in Two Gallants is that of national betrayal. Joyce feels strongly about this, and describes it through simple symbolism. Lenehan “was hungry” and we can see that as he glances “warily up and down the street” he feels some sort of guilt. He then enters and asks, “How much is a plate of peas?” Joyce, clearly fond of biblical allusions, seems to refer to the Genesis story where Esau, the eldest son of Isaac and Rebecca sold his birthright to his twin brother, Jacob, for a mess of pottage. Later, Esau tried to claim his birthright back but Jacob refused to part with it.

Breaking the symbol down, Lenehan and his compatriots have acted in the same way; their geographical twin being England and the pottage referred to as “a plate of peas.”

Yet why is Joyce condemning Lenehan? I feel that this allegory expresses Joyce’s underlying guilt for complicity. Lenehan is at worst a flattering and disreputable man, yet crucially he accompanies Corley (deferring to Corley’s perceived superiority; stepping off the pavement to make way for him, and laughing obediently) and Joyce in the same way has passed by his compatriots in need. He is now full of remorse and bitterness for England’s colonial ways, and even represents their deceit with the image of the harp; it is in the hands of a beggar, showing the manner in which it has fallen into disrepute, and it is being manipulated.

Lenehan stands back in a trance, and it is here that paralysis comes back to haunt Joyce - the paralysis that he discusses earlier leaves Lenehan unable to perceive the clear repression forced upon him, and worse still, he almost appreciates it.

After asking himself “Would he never get a good job? Would he never have a home of his own?” he “went out of the shop to begin his wandering again,” totally disregarding his own doubts and not taking any action to actually better himself, displaying total apathy for his own future; this lack of self-knowledge leads to perpetual unhappiness in Dublin, and Joyce explores this further in Clay.

He also condemned the detachment of the mind and the world in Ireland by saying to his publisher “I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass.”

Joyce later in the passage introduces an interesting theme: the frightening effects of this lack of self-knowledge and subsequent paralysis (paralysis being the theme most often encountered in Dubliners). Samuel Beckett wrote of Joyce, “To Joyce reality was a paradigm, an illustration of a possibly unstatable rule.” If one observes how Lenehan “In his imagination” sees “Corley’s adventure” it becomes clear that there are discrepancies between Lenehan’s mental picture, and reality, which is an altogether more sordid affair. Joyce’s doubts and questioning of reality were partially a characteristic of his modernist style, which explored the human consciousness, and by displaying how Lenehan easily deludes himself by twisting reality, Joyce appears to be rejecting conventional beliefs of an underlying objective truth, and suggesting that Dublin’s stagnancy is a human, and thus a tragic flaw. How can Lenehan stop walking in circles until he realises that he is doing so? His brief epiphany is quickly forgotten, and ultimately unrewarding.

Things to think about:

  • Look at the first page - Lenehan seems to have this aversion to water - he's wearing all kinds of coats and hats to keep the water off. Why? I think this really symbolise some sort of aversion to spirituality (don't forget Catholics use Holy Water) and more than that, it shows a sort of metaphorical thirst, a longing. They're parched: mentally, creatively and spiritually.
  • We get this water aversion appearing all the time: in The Sisters, the umbrellas in the shop are firstly a symbol of phallic rejection (they're closed) but also a symbol of an aversion to water - basically, Dubliners can't see that they need water!
  • In many stories, the water is substituted by alcohol and this doesn't help. Read what I wrote earlier about moving away from reality. Dubliners need to move close to the real world, but alcohol drags them away from it.
  • Lenehan and Corley appear in Ulysses.

More Dubliners essays can be found at the node Dubliners. This essay has been moved to a new w/u after consultation with a God and an Editor.

Other Dubliners Essays:

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